6.29.2010

organ meat

People have been doing some cool stuff with bioprinting tech for some time now.  Veins and skin have already been produced in print-on-demand form.  The exciting news of the day however is that apparently working lungs have been grown in a (I'm not making this up) bioreactor!

I caught the story on IO9 which refers to the artificial organs as "vat grown" and was immediately swept back into one of my favourite novels.

He didn't see it coming. The last he saw of India was the pink stucco fa├žade of a place called the Khush-Oil Hotel.

Because he had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway. The Dutch surgeon liked to joke about that, how an unspecified percentage of Turner hadn't made it out of Palam International on that first flight and had to spend the night there in a shed, in a support vat.

It took the Dutchman and his team three months to put Turner together again. They cloned a square meter of skin for him, grew it on slabs of collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides. They bought eyes and genitals on the open market. The eyes were green.

William Gibson, "Count Zero"

6.22.2010

chapters indigo site needs more win

Update: 07/23/2010

I tweeted a link to this ranty post out to @chaptersindigo and got this back today from @indigo_renee

"@phro Tx for the suggestions. Some of your concerns are definitely on our development roadmap. Others, I'll look into. @chaptersindigo"
Thanks guys! I'm looking forward to checking out what you cook up.



Aside from creative curse words, liver damage, and extra pounds, the only other thing I've had a long term interest in collecting is books.  Which is to say that besides being an avid reader I am also an avid book buyer.  I think libraries have their place, for research, and for folks who are big readers for the sake of reading.  But me, I love reading and I love books besides.  I almost always read with a notepad and pen beside me, and I love taking a highlighter to my favourite passages.  To me the book, like the computer, is a tool that can (and should!) be personalized for maximum throughput.

I say all that to say, I buy a lot of books.  A regular payday treat for me is to stop by a bookstore on the way home.  I re-buy books I already own so I can give away copies without depleting my stash.  On my desktop computer at work, home, on my cell phone, and on my nightstand are lists labelled "things to read", and I'll probably buy them all.

When I started using Chapters/Indigo's site to order stuff they didn't stock in stores I also began using their wishlist feature as a way to consolidate all these disparate lists into one sane place; namely, where the books are. In so doing, by extension I started keeping a list of things that could be better on the Chapters/Indigo site, which for some reason they do not have a place for on their site so I'll put it here.

1. How about a suggestions page?

Why do I have to put this list on my blog?  Chapters are you really so disinterested in how customers think you could improve?

Yes I see there is a "contact us" form, how very 90's, but it appears to be entirely customer service related.  Something more obvious would be better.  Don't make it difficult for people to try to help you.  That should be a rule in business and life in general.

2. Disappearing features stink.

Some books cannot be added to the wishlist for no apparent reason at all.  That book I linked is currently "Temporarily Unavailable to Order New".  Does that mean I should just stop wishing? Say it ain't so!

The current availability of a product has absolutely no bearing on my desire to have that product at some point in the future.  Plus there is quality customer data to be had there regarding demand, data that could be used to encourage publishers that a reprint is in order.  All that valuable data is being silently ignored while simultaneously removing functionality for the user.

3. Do you know who I am?

This weekend my dad and I snooped around the Festival Hall Chapters on John street and we picked up a few titles, one of which was an item from my wishlist.  I purchased that book with the same debit and irewards cards I use to buy books online, yet when I logged in to the site a couple days later I had to remove the title from my wishlist by hand.

All the necessary data to take care of this without my help is right there to be used.  Even if the next time I sign in it just asks me "Hey, we noticed you bought this, should we take it off your wish list for you?", that's fine.  Those precious seconds of user attention being wasted on something that ought to be automatic could be better used promoting products.

4. Do you know who that guy is?


When I search for the author of my currently-unavailable-yet-wished-for book I discover that David Dunning is a popular name among authors.  No problem, I figure my guy isn't writing about managing a dental practice so I click on the David Dunning below and something bizarre happens, it just searches for the guys name again.  

That link may as well be labelled "waste our bandwidth, waste your bandwidth, and waste some time", or more plainly "reload".  Chapters, please talk to a DBA and see about getting a unique key on your authors database table so when clicked it does what a user would expect and limits search results to the David Dunning they're interested in.

5. Coffee?

While scouring the site looking for a suggestion page I discovered that I pass the Chapters/Indigo home offices on my way to and from work every day.  If somebody over there reads this and would like to chat by all means get in touch.

You're buying :)

6.17.2010

morning chuckle

Saw this as I was gnoshing and ramping up my caffeine levels in front of the computron this morning and it put a smile on my face.


Points to @TorontoPolice for being hilarious. Bonus points for anyone with a plausible theory as to why the hell that question would matter to someone being pulled over.

6.15.2010

why do i have to be mr. pink?

I enjoyed this interesting video yesterday by Dan Pink and then today I was randomly linked to a recent Wired article which is basically a dialogue between him and Clay Shirky, creator of the brilliant Shirky principal among other things.  When I trip across the same interesting person twice in as many days I usually take that as a sign that I should be paying attention. If you work for someone, or have someone who works for you, or both, then I think both this video and the article are worth a moment of your attention too.
Pink: " ... When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time. And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm."

6.14.2010

three interesting things for monday

Here's a few interesting things to help you either distract yourself from your week or take it head on. Your call.

1. Instead of spending eternity in an urn or perhaps as an artificial diamond, how about as a piece of 3D printed art? Perhaps, a tableau of a couple birds and a toaster?
- gracias

2. I've yet to find any groundbreaking research at Zachary Burt's blog, but his well metered explanations and summaries of past and current psychology research have prompted me to put a few things on my reading list.  His three part series beginning with "The Science of Compliance" gets the point across by citing a world renowned professor and a world renowned jackass.  My kind of article.

3. By far the most interesting thing I discovered by reading Charlies post today about Afghanistan was this article by a man who grew up in Kabul "in the 50's and 60's".  He describes the city he remembers and provides a series of photos of impressively bouffanted ladies and brylrceemed men working and studying in what looks like any western city of the era.

6.13.2010

hallucinations, satellites, statistics, and google maps

You really ought to go read this interesting conversation about something odd found on Google maps.


In the first ten comments or so you may be surprised to learn all sorts of things, such as:  What are the odds are that this photo happens to be of an area right near where you grew up? Why does it look like it could be a Jefferson Airplane T-shirt? What satellites could have captured this image? And most importantly, what really happens when you go to ludicrous speed?

6.08.2010

you have earned +1 cab company

I had the opportunity to enjoy a warm sunny afternoon in the company of a large pile of groceries today while waiting just over twenty minutes for a cab.  In that time I had a chance to wonder why a city like Toronto would want more than one cab company.  Like most Canadian cities we have a regulated taxi rate.  There is some debate about whether or not that is Good Thing (TM) but I'll let you make up your mind on that.

My thinking is, if the rate is the same across cab companies, who benefits from not centralizing dispatch across all companies?

A cabbie for Becks (for instance) could be just around the corner from someone who puts a call in to Royal Taxi.  The Becks cabbie now waits and so does the caller, not knowing they could help each other out.

As far as my twenty minute musings can determine, the overall effect of a centralized dispatch point across all cab companies would be that cabbies spend less time and gas on their way to pick up fares who spend less time waiting. Because there are more cabs in the system, the probability of lower proximity between cabs and fares increases.

I figure there must be a slimy middleman somewhere in this scheme collecting profit from the current lack of optimization and I have a feeling that person can be found where taxi permits are issued, but I'm not certain.

Anyone have an idea here? Who benefits from the existing configuration?  I'd like to work out who it is so I can point to them and say; "Look at this awful time-wasting, smog-loving profiteer who wants to make you wait in the beautiful sunshine erm, pouring rain so they can make a better percentage!"

6.03.2010

if i jimmy a door with a credit card is that a digital lockpick?

Yesterday afternoon the details dropped about a new Canadian copyright bill called C-32.  (Human readable summary here).  The loudest squaking you'll hear about this bill will no doubt be regarding the part that removes any rights you have to rip CD's or DVD's to your iPod or media center, or record TV on your DVR, or make personal backups of any media you've bought.  Under C-32 these rights all become null and void if that media is protected by a digital lock.

Basically if you have to crack encryption to do what you want with what you've paid for doing so will mean breaking the law.

Which I think sucks, but I'm no law guru so I won't comment beyond that, there are plenty of other smart folks out there tackling the pros and cons.  Go read up and decide for yourself if that's a good thing for Canadians.

My question is this: If you can't break a digital lock in order to do what you want with a product you have purchased, shouldn't manufacturers be required to clearly label these products as being "protected".

How am I to know what products I can legally use to my satisfaction if I don't find out that it's protected by a digital lock until I get home?  At that point I'm double screwed because businesses have known for years that digital locks don't mean diddly squat and have acted accordingly.

If only there were some universally recognizable logo, like the Explicit Lyrics warning label.  Wait a minute ... there IS a logo to warn about digital locks, and it's conveniently available in ready-to-be-printed-as-a-sticker format here!  I predict I will be invited to leave many a Best Buy this year ...


EDIT: As it turns out, the xxAA have beaten me to this brilliant evil plan, those bastards!  How can I twist my mustache while hatching plots now? Anyway the image they chose is slightly less wordy and looks like this. So keep your eye out for it and vote with your dollars!

6.02.2010

kick(start) a diaspora when it's down?

Like a lot of people, when I caught wind of the Diaspora project I decided to ante up and see what some hipster lookin' kids from NYU could do about taking the suck out of Facebook.  I'd never used Kickstarter before, the platform they used to collect digital alms to fund their work so I bought a temporary Visa card and put ten bucks in their coffer looking forward to seeing how it all turned out.  Then I got distracted and wandered off to spend the rest of my temporary Visa on stupid shirts and other internet foolishness.

Fast forward to today, the end of their fundraising period.  Which apparently Kickstarter waits for before they actually try to charge your card, so of course now that my sweet geometry apparel is paid for and en route, my donation got declined.  So now I'm the asshole who jerks the rug out from under these guys to the tune of TEN DOLLARS!  

We're talking tens of dozens of cents here people.

Okay so it's not a big deal, but seriously I can't be the only one who had this happen.  Maybe it never occurred to them that someone might not implicitly trust them from the get go? C'mon Kickstarter, get yer head in the game.

6.01.2010

solo city

As a teenager I spent some time living in a small city on Vancouver Island with around thirty thousand people.  Even as a youngin' I had an unhealthy appreciation for all things apocalyptic.  Road Warrior, The Stand, Swan Song, pretty much anything Of The Dead.  If most of humanity was gone, I was paying attention to it.  

One weekend morning in my small city I had to be downtown early for some reason and on my way there as I crested a hill that overlooked the city center I realized I could not see or hear any evidence of another human being anywhere.  There were no cars moving anywhere, no boats in the channel, no people in my line of sight.  Just me and a big empty city.  It's a strange feeling, scary and liberating at the same time, like the first time you sneak off in your parents car.

I saw this short video today and it reminded me of that morning.  Enjoy!